NEW CASTLE, PA, May 11, 2015 – Before the facts were even fully known, coverage of the Muhammad cartoon exhibition shooting in Garland, Texas, immediately focused on religion and free speech. The conversation was important, but the backdrop of a terrorist attack reduces that kind of debate to emotion-driven reactions based on pre-existing views.
Awaiting new details on what the Garland shooting might reveal, people now need to reflect on these issues.
The United States is a liberal democracy, whereas the Middle East is a region where cultural rights take precedence. People in the Muslim world place a higher value on their cultural identity, which is often defined by their religion. This helps explains why Muslims are particularly complacent and peaceful when defending their own freedoms, yet react violently when others disrespect their religion.
For many, there is an apparent double standard when it comes to criticizing violent reactions of angry Muslims. Violent reactions may receive far greater attention due to their explosive nature, but both Islam and Christianity deserve equal protection and respect while violence is unacceptable.
The focus on individual rights and freedoms in the United States, however, helps explains why Americans are more accepting of those who disrespect their beliefs while fiercely defending the freedoms of the most offensive of people.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedoms of religion and speech. Where the original guarantee was intended to defend against government oppression, the 14th Amendment and the civil rights movement forced government to actively protect the freedoms of all U.S. citizens.
Police must, therefore, protect even citizens who abuse their First Amendment Rights to intentionally offend others.
LGBT issues, as a related example, often involve conflicts between religious freedoms and free speech. Where the LGBT community rightfully encourages LGBT individuals to be honest about their feelings, LGBT activists also tend to be very disrespectful and hostile toward Christians and others who are critical of the LGBT lifestyles to the point that they even suppress dissent based on logic and scientific reasoning.
Suppressing the views of others, instead of addressing areas of conflict, only leads to greater social strife in the long run.
Many issues plaguing the Muslim world stem from the reality that many Muslim populations are oppressed. Consequently, people need to learn to better tolerate the views of others, even when those views offend.
That said, Americans may have a guaranteed right to free speech, but that does not mean they should say whatever they feel like saying. It certainly does not mean condoning the offensive things others say.
Outside of legal rights and protections, there is such a thing as etiquette and basic respect. Arguments suggesting that it is un-American to criticize people like the Garland Muhammad illustrators, because they have a right to free speech, are flat wrong. Acting civil and cordial is far from un-American.
Just like the Charlie Hebdo publication, the Muhammad cartoon contest was intended to offend. Those illustrators in Garland, Texas, fully recognized that the depiction of Muhammad is considered disrespectful to Muslims, while their apparent motivation was “to protest.” i.e., provoke, the violent reactions that Muslims often have to the depiction of their Prophet Muhammad.
Child civil right proponent Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for encouraging girls to attend school, was a victim because she happened to offend extremists by defending others.
English teacher Gillian Gibbons, who was jailed in Sudan in 2007 when she naively named a teddy bear Muhammad, was a victim of Muslim extremism, because her mistake was not intended to offend others.
The Muhammad cartoon illustrators, however, were intentionally provoking a violent reaction.
Violence may be an unacceptable reaction to insults, but the Muhammad cartoon illustrators intended to be disrespectful and to provoke a violent reaction. Their goal was not to stand up for free speech. It was to use the freedom of speech as a shield to insult people.
Not only do they bear responsibility for provoking violence in Garland, they have no right to use the First Amendment as a shield; so doing discredits the value of free speech.
The supposed “right to offend” has been used to absolve troublemakers like Muhammad cartoonists of any responsibility when they succeed in provoking violence. The Constitution does protect all speech in order to protect people who happen to offend others when they express themselves. The Constitution may well be written to defend offensive ideas, but it does not mean those who are intentionally offensive need to be appeased.
Americans may be compelled to respect the rights of offensive troublemakers, but they do not have to condone that behavior. Even if people disagree with a religious belief, that does not mean they should be disrespectful of others and their rights.